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Commentary: "Inadaptable" Nový Bydžov

Prague, 17.2.2011 15:26, (Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion in Roma Localities)

Mayor Louda is doing everything he can to convince the public that the town of Nový Bydžov has an unsolvable problem with Roma people. However, only some of the 150 people who have moved to the town during the past two years are behind the problems happening in the public arena, which have primarily been petty crimes committed by youth.

These people live not only in residential hotels and rented apartments, but also in old garages not zoned for human habitation, where they pay rents of between CZK 3 000 and 8 000. They have become the victims of a racket being run by 12 residential hotel owners, one of whom is Roma, most of whom are either absentee or local business people from the majority population. These people are exploiting the fact that during the past five years, 3 000 residents have moved away from the town, looking for work and leaving cheap real estate behind.

This town is afflicted by a problem (for the time being on a small scale) that surfaces as one of the most acute with respect to the migration of the poor. Dozens if not hundreds of Czech towns have pushed Roma residents who couldn't pay their debts off of their territories. These people have been willingly taken up by "real estate agencies", enterprising individuals who have moved them into run-down apartments in poor regions of the country with high unemployment. A parallel housing market has risen up in excluded ghettos where rents reach astronomical heights and have become a reason for a drastic indebtedness comparable to that induced by loan-sharking.

Poor people keep out

This makes the recent proposal to ban anyone who has committed a misdemeanor and who has no registered permanent residence from taking up residence in a particular town even more incomprehensible. Czech MP Řápková presented this idea at the recent meeting in Nový Bydžov and Czech Justice Minister Pospíšil has already labeled it unconstitutional. Towns that manage to get rid of their poor people in time will now be hermetically sealed against them. People without registered permanent residence (and there are several tens of thousands of them among the homeless and the poor) will therefore migrate endlessly and their behavior will continue to radicalize - they will become more and more indebted and the housing market for the poor will blossom.

According to MP Řápková's other proposals, the state would also have the option of reducing the welfare benefits for such people to the bare minimum needed for existence (CZK 2 000 per month). This would lead to the growth in the Czech Republic of a large group of poor, radicalized inhabitants who will have no opportunity to be included into society anywhere. Another of her proposals - a misdemeanor registry - would contribute to that. If a criminal record is one of the greatest obstacles to finding a job, then those who have only committed misdemeanors will acquire a similar mark against them. The cherry on the cake is her proposal to publish information about rent defaulters by posting it on walls, publishing it in the press, and announcing it on the radio, including the person's date of birth, place of residence, and the sanctions applied.

These proposals by MP Řápková, taken together with Mayor Louda's declarations - during Monday's seminar he noted to the MP that "citizens are demanding a solution to the Gypsy question" - are chilling. They are pushing the Czech Republic in the direction of an enormous problem which it will cost hundreds of billions of crowns to solve. On the other hand there are constructive, relatively inexpensive solutions: Support for employment, for discharging debt, for educating all children in mainstream schools together. None of these measures were mentioned at the mayors' meeting in Nový Bydžov. Those mayors who have successfully integrated their poor people were missing from that meeting. They were not even invited.

This commentary was first published on 17 February 2011 in Lidové noviny.

Gwendolyn Albert, Martin Šimáček, Martin Šimáček, Director of the Czech Government Agency for Social Inclusion in Roma Localities, translated by Gwendolyn Albert
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